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Students showcasing research posters at the 2015 GCEP Symposium

Energy Seminar: Charlie Gay, A Brief History of Photovoltaics - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

May 1, 2017 - 4:30pm to 5:20pm
NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center

Free and open to all.

Event Sponsor: 
Precourt Institute for Energy
Contact Email:

Charlie Gay, Director, Solar Energy Technologies Office, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

What can happen over the next 15 years, as photovoltaic (PV) power costs continue to decrease and markets expand? This talk will cover the range of opportunities associated with changes in energy supply in developed and developing economies. Dr. Gay will review the history of solar and discuss the key role of professionals in communicating a vision for the future. The efforts to inform and educate a wide range of stakeholders will be essential to seeing the potential for wide adoption of PV become a reality. This talk will endeavor to convey some of the stories essential to enabling our outreach. 

Just over forty years ago, the idea that solar power could make the leap from powering satellites in space to powering the planet was the vision of only a few people brought together by the shock of the first oil embargo. Today, almost everyone sees solar panels on a daily basis. This talk will describe the journey from the sun’s use in earliest times to tomorrow’s continuum of recyclable materials employed in producing energy from a manufactured good, rather than by consuming mother earth’s resources. The exponential increase in applications powered by solar is shown to be directly tied to the predictable cost reduction experienced through economies of scale and continuous technology performance improvements. The talk will endeavor to deliver insights that are both inspirational and quantitatively informative by thoroughly detailing many of the alternative pathways for achieving scale that have been established upon foundations of science and experience proven over decades. 

The talk will quantify multiple dimensions of the solar value chain: how feedstocks are prepared, how factories consistently operate, how manufacturing environment health and safety is planned and audited, how life cycle benefits are quantified, how our planet wins at the same time business wins. We now have an existence proof. It is possible to have sustainable development that is economically sustainable.